Human Rights Watch has condemned the expulsion of several observers in Western Sahara. HRW’s World Report 2017, released on Thursday, refers specifically to the case of Carlos Beristain, a Spanish human rights expert and two of his colleagues who were expelled in October last year by the Moroccan authorities. HRW also criticised the way that rallies supporting self-determination for Western Sahara have been “systematically” prevented.
The Spaniards were invited to the territory by the Saharawi Association of Victims of Serious Human Rights Violations (ASVDH) to participate “at a public event organised by the association since it obtained legal recognition in 2015.”
The report highlighted a visit by the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, where he described Western Sahara as “occupied” and referred to the possibility of a referendum to determine the future of the territory. As a result, Morocco expelled the “civilian staff of the [UN] Peacekeeping Mission in Western Sahara,” with only a handful of staff allowed to return.
The NGO also highlighted how the United States “has allowed its aid allocated to Morocco to be spent in Western Sahara, in spite of US non-recognition of the sovereignty of Morocco on the territory.” The International Republican Institute, an American NGO, received a government grant of $1 million for a two-year programme in Western Sahara looking at civil society and participatory governance.
Moreover, HRW criticised Algeria’s “criminal prosecution” in 2016 of bloggers, journalists and media personalities for “the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.” The Algerian authorities have, it is alleged, used “articles of the Criminal Code” which considers it a crime to “outrage the President, insult state officials, or denigrate Islam.” Trade union activists have also apparently been prosecuted for organising peaceful demonstrations on counts such as “participating in unauthorised mobs”, the rights group claims.
Highlighting the case of Slimane Bouhafs, a Christian convert, HRW noted that he was sentenced to three years in prison on 6 September last year by the Sétif appeal court “for postings on Facebook that insulted the Prophet Muhammed.” Article 144 of the Criminal Code was used to justify this sentence.
Furthermore, HRW pointed to the case of Mohamed Tamalt, a British-Algerian journalist and blogger, who was sentenced to two years in prison last summer for posting a poem on social media criticising President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Tamalt died on 11 December “in a hospital in Algiers following a hunger strike he had begun to protest against his arrest.”